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S1 E5: Inca Empire transcript

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

NB: This is the transcript is for the unedited script. A lot of the chaff was cut for the final show. I know. Hard to believe that what you heard was all gold.

Welcome to Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore, the historical entertainment podcast about countries that don’t exist anymore. This week’s episode is sponsored by Blockbuster Video.


Err...Ed. I don’t think Blockbuster Video exists anymore.


That’s why I’ve chosen them. They fit the Countries That Don’t Exist Anymore theme.

GRAMS *sponsors that don’t exist anymore….*


So how much are we getting for this sponsorship then?


A full swag crate.


A swag crate?


Yeah, it's a big box of freebies they send out to top influencers like me.


Ooh, what's in there?


These limited edition copies of the straight-to-DVD classics Home Alone 7: Kevin on the dole, Schindler’s List 2: Schindler Goes Shopping and Herbie Does Dallas. Plus, this signed copy of Reservoir Dogs...




signed by...the cast and crew of Homes Under The Hammer. And Star Wars merch…




It’s a Jar Jar Binks’ legal documents wallet. If you're a bankrupt company with a warehouse full of unsold or damaged merchandise, please send it our way.


That's right. We need it to do history.


Why do we call it the Inca Empire?

Although we call the Inca Empire the Inca Empire, in Quechua, the langua ge of the Inca and one which is still spoken to this day, the Inca Empire was known as Tawatinsuyu - which means the Four Regions.

If, at a Lima pizza joint, they don’t have a Four Regions pizza...I’m sorry, but that’s just a marketing opportunity going begging. Obviously, you'd have to tailor it to local tastes. So on the pizza, you could have guinea pig, llama, cow’s heart and pineapple.




I know. Pineapple?

Answer the question. Why is it called the Inca Empire?

We know Tawatinsuyu by the name Inca empire, because in Quechua, Inca means “leader.”


Take us to your leader.


The Inca?


Is that what your people are called, is it? Right Inca, take us to your leader.


I'm not the Inca. The Inca’s the Inca.


These people are clearly confused. We have no choice but to conquer them and take their gold...I mean benefit their lives with civilisation. See how easy it is to get confused around here?

This is classic behaviour by conquerors and colonisers. They never bother learning the language properly and that creates mistakes which we never quite shake off, for example.


I, Christopher Columbus, have landed in India, so these islands shall be known as the Indies and all you native peoples are now to be known as Indians.


Umm. I don’t know where India is exactly, but this isn’t it. Sorry to nitpick.


Open fire! (FX: Musket shots) I had no choice. They were in full revolt.

Inca is either spelt Inca (I-N-C-A) or I-N-K-A with a hard Quechuan K. Incidentally, backpackers visiting Peru often request a bit of hard Kechuan K, but that's not them being culturally sensitive.

The vast Inca state has been described as the “Roman Empire of South America”, because they were the most succ essful pre-Columbian civilisation. They managed to administer it without domesticated livesto ck, written language, currency or even the wheel...yes...the wheel. That's not how they rolled. 


How long did the Inca Empire last?

Given that we’re calling them the Romans of South A merica, this answer might surprise you. It’s natural to think of the Inca as an ancient, long-lived phenomenon that stretches back into the mists o*f time….but the empire actually only lasted 95 years, from 1438-1533. But rather than taking any points away from the impressiveness of the Incan achievement, if anything this only amplifies how much they were able to get done in such a short time - although it should also be pointed out that they were building on the back of cultures before them - but we’ll come back to that later.

What type of government did the Inca have?

From what we can tell, it was an absolute monarchy. We’re not talking about a Mercia or Sultanate of Rum dealie where the leader with the most backing gets to rent out the throne. No. This is a balls-out, I am a god and you will do what I say absolute monarchy situation. 

This was probably helped by a rigorously strict hierarchical system that makes feudal Europe seem totally laissez-faire and dress-down-Friday by comparison. The Inca Emperors were also incestuous. Not European royal “isn't-the-countess-of-Saxony-actually-my-cousin?-Whoops!-Too-late-now” incest. No. We're talking about full blown brother and sister doing it and producing children that do it too. 




What? The Pineapple on pizza thing still? I know… ewwww!

What's absolutely incredible  is practically all the Incan rulers seemed pretty capable and barely dribbly and derpy at all. The legitimate children (i.e. ones that came from the strictly incestuous line) made up the royal family and had a claim to the throne. Those born illegitimately...i.e. when the emperor had a bit on the side with someone that he wasn't actually directly related to (SCANDAL…), became the second tier of society, i.e. priests, high officials and advisers.

How large was the Inca Empire?

Vast. 770,000 square miles or 2 million km squared of land which stretched down the western part of South America covering large swathes of 6 modern countries: Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. 

If colouring in areas of map is your fancy, be prepared to buy another pack of felt tips before tackling the Inca Empire.

And to put the scale of that into perspective, that’s a larger land mass than Alexander the Great’s Macedonian Empire, than the mighty Ottoman Empire, than the Seljuk Empire - some of which we covered in episode 3 - check it out now. 


Am I right in thinking, and pardon me if I am in error, for to err is human but to forgive divine, that in terms of geographical magnitude, this country, though methinks one cannot term a collection of such disparate lands a quoth unquoth country in the technical sense per se as it were, though indeed I believe the good Dr Johnson did once pen the line, immeasurable in virtue and steadfast in…


What’s the question? 


Is this the biggliest one what we’ve done?



Its capital was Cuzco in Peru and the empire was estimated to have over 10 million inhabitants at its height. May not sound like a lot but, for another blast of context, in 1500, the entire Spanish Empire had a population of 8.5 million.

How was Inca society organised?

As we’ve mentioned, this was a very hierarchical structure. Most people were your bog-standard farmers and labourers. These were organised into groups called “Ayus.” As in:

Inca 1:

Ayus farming today?

Inca 2:

Yep. Ayus?

Inca 1:


As well as working on their land, members of Ayus were obligated to “pay tax” by working a certain number of hours for the state, doing things like building roads, bridges or working on a noble’s land.

The local village would be made up of housing units called “cancha.” These were enclosures of several buildings built around a central courtyard. The buildings were plain, rectangular shapes, with single stories, thatched roofs, stone walls and one door. Temples and storehouses, meanwhile, looked very similar - but were built on a much larger scale. Inca buildings generally didn’t have windows. That’s why there is no Quechuan word for “Grand Designs.”

Now, these cancha may seem a bit uniform and restrictive, but everybody lived in one, no matter what your status was. Certainly, nobles had larger canchas, but, from what we can tell, even the poorest person in Incan society had a home. I can hear the thumping sound of our more conservative-minded listeners fainting in outrage at this state of affairs.


But if we don't punish the poor, how will they know not to be poor?

 That said, not everybody in the Inca Empire necessarily lived in a Cancha. Conquered people were generally allowed to keep alive a lot of their traditions. So, if you33r people preferred a circular hut to dwell in, hut on, my friend. Hut on.

But what did you do if you had local issues? Who would you go to?

Well, the local state representative was called a Caraca. The local caraca was in charge of 100 households.

But, this local caraca would then report to a higher level caraca - who was in charge of 5 Caracas below him, or 500 households.

They in return were below a superior Caraca in charge of 1,000 households, then 5,000, then 10,000, then 20,000.

The highest level was the provincial governor, known as the Apu. (SFX Thank you, come again.) 

But what did these Caracas do?

So, the local Caraca ensured their ayus provided the right amount of food and labour. They also dealt with crime in the population, and that's where the hierarchical system came in.

Let's say, that someone in your ayu had committed a crime against you. Let's say, stole some of your corn or took liberties with your llama. Then you'd go to your local Caraca.

But what if the accused didn't come from your ayu but from one miles away? Well, you'd still report it to your Caraca but then he'd report it up the chain until they reached a Caraca who had both you and the alleged criminal under their jurisdiction. It's like looking for a common relative between you and someone 3else on a family tree. Except the only reason people would establish some common family connection would be to establish criminal activity. Like on Jeremy Kyle.

Like all real power in both Medieval Europe and Britain in the 21st century, Caraca status was hereditary. Even if you were a noble and were conquered by the Inca, you could expect to be given Caraca status.

The children of Caraca went to the capital Cuzco to learn how to govern. 

But they weren’t the only state supported, over-educated layabouts. The Amortakuna were a class of wise men, who mainly hung out being all wise.

“What do you do for a living?”


Or GRAMS “I’m a wise guy” from goodfellas or some such

This contrasted starkly with the rest of the populace who didn’t get a formal education outside of learning Quechuan.


Learn Quechuan in 10 Easy Tapes. Tape 8. Lesson 2: On Holiday.


Imainallam kackanki?


Imainallam kackanki?


How are you?


How are you.


Imataq sutiyki?


Imataq sutiyki?


What’s your name?


What’s your name. I think I’m getting this.


Wañusqata puñuspaqa ni imata reparankichu, ¿icharí?...

MAN: Wañusqata puñuspaqa ni imata reparankichu, ¿icharí? That was a long one.


When you are in a very deep sleep, you do not know what is going on around you, do you?— And when you wake up, you do not know how long you have been sleeping until you look at a clock.


Well that’s the last time I buy a language tape from Cuzco University’s Philosophy Faculty Annual Jumble Sale!

The only thing most people learned were practical farming techniques. But, there was also an artisan class who produced goods like pottery, textiles etc. These artisans were hereditary. Whatever your Dad did, that's probably what you'd be doing too. So rebellious teenagers would be something like.


Father, I don't want to produce large pots anymore. I want to produce…. slightly smaller pots.


Oh, you ungrateful little bastard!

Because of the limited educational opportunities and total lack of social mobility, it's likely that Incan Harry Potter would have literally just made pots.

Incan Harry Potter films:

Harry Potter and the Fired Goblet.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Circumstance.

Harry Potter and the...Saucer of stone.*33

(The first two were ok.)

Production was highly controlled by the state to make sure just the right amount of everything was produced. Why? Well, remember that there was no currency and, since artisans are at it full time, they have no time to farm and so were fed from food taxed from the farmers. This requires LOTS of central planning.

The whole thing is a free market capitalist’s nightmare!

So while life for most people was largely already decided, there were other paths.

If you showed promise, you might be selected as a Royal servant.

Indeed, ackiakona (or chosen women) were the most attractive peasant women in the land. They received an education and then either served in temples, became wives of nobles or produced fine textiles.

Yes, that's right. The Inca built a system to channel the hottest women to the most powerful men. In fairness to them, it's a template that has been used everywhere throughout time.

When the Inca conquered a new people, they'd separate a certain amount of them and then relocate them to stop them forming a resistance.

The Inca would then demand taxes in the form of food and labour, as well as introducing some of their religious practices.


How do you mean? Praying, fasting, serving stale biscuits and weak orange squash after the service? That kind of thing?


Child sacrifice.



So while, the Inca tolerated other gods, they did insist that the chief Inca God, who was known as Inti when the empire was on the rise, took pride of place. Part of keeping that God happy was Capacocha or child sacrifice.

Children were selected from all parts of the empire and were chosen for their beauty and lack of physical imperfections. They were then paraded through different parts of the empire before they were killed. It's like a beauty pageant that nobody wants to win. Although the winners of Miss World are generally touched up backstage by Donald Trump, so I guess it' a beauty pageant.

The chosen children were dressed in incredibly elaborate clothing, given a blow to the head and left in places called “Wakas” which are like shrines generally located in beautiful and dramatic places which had spiritual significance...on top of mountains or by waterfalls for example.

Because of the altitude, a lot of these mummies are extremely well preserved - meaning that we can examine the fine fabrics they’re bundled in (which often had patterns woven into the material, denoting rank) and the grave goods they carried - which were often miniature versions of the things you’d expect them to need in normal life - like little model alpacas, food and tools. The idea was that the future life of these young people was being sacrificed to the gods.

But why were they sacrificed?

Why were they sacrificed?


I ask the questions around here...don’t I?

  1. The ritual of Capacocha seemed to happen after natural disasters such as volcanoes, earthquakes or landslides or at times of drought. The Andes Mountains are particularly prone to all of these things, so the business of living and empire building in the region was often precarious - better to get the divine entities onside. For further evidence of natural disasters, we only need look at gigantic blocks of stone used as pillars or door lintels (dating from before the Inca Empire) that have huge splits in them, which could only have been caused by massive tectonic activity, aka earthquakes to those without a geography GCSE. Droughts could be long and harsh. Of all the rainfall that comes off the Atlantic onto the South American continent, 90% gets dumped in the Amazon Rainforest, with a slender 10% making it towards the Andes. Living in such a precarious environment, it was little wonder that the inhabitants decided to take so much trouble appeasing angry gods.

  2. The sacrifices may have been part of the Incan calendar and used to mark extremely significant events, such as a war or the birth of an emperor. Nowadays we only get tacky commemorative plates if something happens to the Royal Family - so think yourself lucky.

Defenders of this practice may point to the fact that it was seen a great honour to be chosen for this duty - but was it really or is this just an excuse?


But I don't want to die.


Hey, it's a great honour. I'd love to be in your place but we've all got to make sacrifices.


But you're the one killing me!


That's what I said. We/I have got to make sacrifices.

If it were such a great honour, you wonder why the Incan Royal children or local elites never had to do it. Don’t the gods deserve the best, after all? You also wonder why the victims never seems to come from people with Incan or Quechuan blood, but were only picked from conquered populations.

Was this really like winning the lottery, or was it just a way for the Inca to straightforwardly control the populace by reminding them who was boss?

The border between life and death in Incan culture was a lot blurrier than in our own. Departed Inca leaders, like with the pharaohs of Egypt, were turned into mummies upon their death...but also treated as if they were very much alive. These Royal mummies were invited to state events, banquets and oversaw rituals. They were considered very much part of society.

SFX: Mr Dead the talking corpse


How was the party?


It was pretty dead.


Hey! Royalty! Lucky you!

So human sacrifice was a big, big deal. Remember that there's no currency, so the production of everything is basically calculated in terms of man hours and food production. The Inca saw children as their not precious resource, so when you're burying a child with fine fabrics, grave goods and alcohol etc. you know this was a huge down payment on survival.

I mentioned alcohol there, which would have been chicha. Chicha is like a beer brewed from corn and you can still drink it in many parts of South America. I've tried chicha. You'll know when you're drinking chicha because you'll say, “Eww. What the hell is that?”

What did the Inca believe?

So, we've touched on sacrifice, the fact that emperors were regarded as divine and we've mentioned the chief Inca God, Inti, but let's look at how religion was organised.

Like almost every area of Inca life, religion too was extremely rigid. A hierarchy of priests ran parallel to the hierarchy of government and, because polytheism of religion was allowed, local priests served in local temples worshipping local gods.

FX: League of Gentlemen “local” clip.

You could probably put the Inca's medical class under the religious category too. Local healers spoke to spirits who gave them instructions on how to cure your illness.


“The spirits tell me that your cold can be cured by bathing in the droppings of an incontinent llama.”


Umm...right. They don't also mention bed rest and Lemsip do they?

The Inca believed that illnesses were caused by supernatural forces, but the cures they prescribed often included specific herbal brews which undoubtedly actually helped them fight the illness. Which isn't weird. Humans and animals have long known about natural cures without understanding how they work.


Silly Incas, with their hocus pocus and quackery.


What are you rubbing on your dry skin, there Phil?


This is Chia seed and hemp avocado mustard balm. It helps unlock your chakras. Only £25 from Holland & Barrett.


There was a black market approach to health and wellbeing, and that was from sorcerers. These magicians were both highly sought after yet universally feared for their power. They could foretell the future, provide secret information and even curse people. Their rituals are said to have been very much like West African and Haitian voodoo. To curse a certain person, they’d need hair, nails or skin of the victim.

Inca woman 1:

You’ll never guess, love. I got me hair cut, a manicure and a pedicure all done on the cheap at that new salon, Sorcery Joe’s.

Inca woman 2:

Well you look great, you look like a million hours of farm work..

Inca woman 1:

Yeah, except for this constant stabbing pains all over my body and me skin turning green.


GRAMS - Terminator


I need your hair, your nails and your skin.

BUT, sorcery was actually illegal under the state religion. If a sorcerer were caught, they and their family could be put to death.

Another more legitimate practitioner was the Oracle - who could tell the future. The problem is, like Wimpy restaurants, there weren't many around.

If you wanted your future told, your best bet was a local priest, who could apparently do this by examining the lungs of an animal or spitting out coca leaves and examining the way they fell. Like a very basic version of CERN but with more flob.

The Incan Calendar

The Incan Day Calendar was based on the sun and was used to chart when crops should be planted or harvested. The Night Calendar was based on the moon and had 328 days. Because the Day and  Night calendar had a different number of days, they didn’t correspond exactly and would keep moving around. We’re not sure how this was reconciled exactly, though it’s fair to say that Incan workers must have had watertight excuses for not turning up to work on time.


Sorry I'm late boss. The solar and lunar cycles are out of sync again.


Time confusion is not an excuse. You're late now and you will have had been late next Thursday.

3 main religious festivals:

  1. Capac Raimi (Dec) - celebration of the rains. This involved 1 month of rituals, dancing and chica drinking celebrations culminating in a grand sacrifice.

  2. Eye Moray (May) was the Inca harvest festival, where celebrants would feast on grain and sacrificed llama while dancing in the field. Better than the UK harvest festival, where the elderly feast on tins of prunes and out-of-date rice pudding in front of repeats of Deal or No Deal.

  3. Inti Raimi (June) was a festival introduced by Pacha Kuti (who we'll come to shortly) and was dedicated to the Sun God, The epicentre was either a sacred hill or in Cuszco itself, if you were in the capital.

Inca Knots

The Inca built lots of amazing monuments, had a highly effective road and messenger network and raised large armies to campaign and conquer. The question did they achieve all this without currency or a system of writing? How do you keep track of hours worked or, for want of a better word here, the COST of a project or what resources are needed where and when? Well, the answer may NOT be what you think.


Is it knots?


*exhales* Yes, it’s bloody knots. Thanks Phil.

Collections of knots were called quipus and they were the recording devices of their time and place. The abacus of South America. These quipus were a series of hanging strings of different colours that had knots tied into them to convey meaning. So far, we know that these knots denoted numbers. The Inca had a base ten number system, meaning that knots at different points related to single numbers, tens, hundred, thousands etc.


What are you doing this weekend, Tupac?


I’m tying the knot.


You’re getting married?


No, I’m taking a course in accountancy.


You’re not!



But how could a bunch of numbers convey all the meaning that was needed? Could the colour of the strings and the placement of the knots actually denote language, including specific Quechuan words? It’s an intriguing idea, unfortunately:

  1. Not many of these Quipus are left thanks to the degradation of the materials Quipus are made of over time.

  2. Most of our information on the Inca unfortunately comes from Spanish accounts of the time, which is a bit like getting the KKK to review Hamilton. The Spanish wanted the Inca to be viewed as uncivilised savages who were crying out for a good, old-fashioned colonising, not coding wizards who might have invented the world’s first computer.

  3. There’s no Quipu Rosetta Stone. To crack the Quipu code, we’d need to find a Quipu with a direct translation next to it. And, given how quickly the Inca crumbled upon contact with the Europeans and the speed at which they rot, it’s not likely that there’s one out there.

  4. Quipus were rare. Like books in Medieval Europe, Quipus were expensive to commission and maintain, so only the haves could have knots. *SFX rim shots*

But knot mastery wasn’t just limited to Quipus. They were also how the Inca created the world’s first suspension bridges! That’s right! Hundreds of years before technologically-more advanced Europe managed one, Inca suspension bridges were spanning the canyons and crevices of the Andes Mountains.

Incan knots were also used to create lightweight body armour which, pound for pound, was stronger than Spanish steel. Knots were also used to make slings, whose stones were said to be able to apparently break Spanish swords. 

So, when I say that the Inca were craft masters, I am knot kidding.

And did I mention that the Inca made boats out of papyrus reeds, and one was reconstructed and sailed by Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl from Morocco to the Bahamas in 1970? A transatlantic a boat made of Papyrus? Made of papyrus? Well, it worked on paper.

But if absurdly ingenious technology is your thing, look no further than the Incas. At Moray (Mor-eye) you’ll find 3 huge depressions cut into the land with stepped limestone terraces 3 metres in height. Each agricultural step was set up perfectly for growing crops, with their large limestone walls absorbing heat during the day and protecting their crops from frost at night.

So incredible are these mini-micro-climates that, even to this day, the temperature at the bottom of these depressions  during the day is regularly 22 centigrades while the temp a the top can be up to 10 degrees cooler. This would have allowed for both experimentation with growing different crop varieties and the ability to produce food at high altitudes.

Inca prequels

The Inca state didn’t appear from nowhere. Instead, they built on top of other states that had formed in the first millenium AD including Tiwanaku, Huarri, Chimu and Moche - all of whom have their own impressive remains that are well worth a google (other search engines are available… remember Ask Jeeves?). And even these societies were building on techniques and traditions that may date back to at least the 3rd millennium BC.

So for example, much of the Inca’s impressive irrigation systems were borrowed directly from the Chimu, who had a 40 mile canal dug to their capital at Chan Chan. So good, they named it twice.

The same can be said for the Inca’s system of roads and their administrative system which allowed them to preside over a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic empire.

Inca Origin Story

The Inca state began its life as the Kingdom of Cusco in the 12th century around the fertile Lake Titicaca, which had formerly been an area of Huarri influence. The Huarri themselves were a model empire for the Inca. One of the Huarri’s largest cities was Pikiincta which has been estimated to have taken 6 million days of labour to build! The Huarri were a highly successful civilisation that goes missing from the archaeological record in 1000 AD, precisely at a time when this area of the world went through a very dry and cold period. Further evidence of the treacherous influence of this landscape and climate on civilisation in this part of the world. But, much of their culture, technology and traditions stayed with the Inca.

Back to the Inca, where rapid expansion came under 15th-century ruler Pachakuti and continued for the next 100 years.  

How did they get so successful?

  1. The mida (meeda) system of labour-based taxation was taken from the Chimu, but perfected by the Inca. This allowed the Inca to to exploit the rich agricultural potential of the land. AND allowed them to work on architecture, fortifications, road etc. Also, while involved in state labour, both conquered and common people were fed by the people were tied by labour to the activities of the state. The Inca effectively had an army of worker ants.

  2. Taking this technology and upscaling it allowed the inca to provide food security for its empire. Inca storehouses were located throughout the empire. There’s a great example of them overlooking the town of Ollantaytambo. These storehouse facilities included food, seeds, textiles and weaponry. Not only were these a practical measure to provide for communities in times of drought and famine, but they were also a reminder to people that “if you stick with us, we’ll look after you.” In an inhospitable landscape, food security was a great incentive to stay in line.

  3. Talking of food security, The Inca came from the fertile Lake Titicaca and were able to produce lots of food and textiles which could support a large population. It’s like starting Monopoly with Mayfair and Park Lane. It’s a decent leg up.

  4. The divinity of the royals and royal ancestors, tied to the cult of Virracocha the Sun God, whilst incorporating the religious practices of conquered populations into their system.

  5. The Inca stuck to the idea of elite civilisations. So, when they conquered another culture, their elites became local elites in the Inca Empire. This also helped stem the tide of rebellion.

  6. The Inca Emperors didn’t give their w3ealth to their children upon their deaths. As they were mummified, their courts went on much as they did before and their accumulated wealth stayed at that court to defray expenses. Without their inheritance, the new Inca had to look to conquest to secure wealth.

BUT, the Inca system had a major problem.

Like with most dynastic set ups throughout history, the Inca had a problem with succession. It wasn't the oldest child that was chosen but the most capable. This could lead to civil war between siblings. One such civil war was raging when the Spanish rocked up. Civil war weakened the capability of the Inca to unite and halt a common enemy. This is exactly what happened when the Vikings turned up in England.


In the early 16 century, Cuzco had about 100,000 citizens making it, we think, the largest urban settlement in South America up to that point.

The city was quite purposefully organised to represent a microcosm of the empire. Different quarters of the city represented different quarters of the empire. Leaders of the conquered territories had to reside in their appropriate quarter of Cuzco for at least a part of the year.


Cyclopaien - large stone blocks fitted together without masonry. A similar building style can be found in ancient Egypt and on the Greek islands.

Machu Picchu is perhaps the most famous Inca structure but, given that it's made from smaller blocks, quite uncharacteristic. There are probably lots of good reasons for this, but given that it's perched atop a massive hill - perhaps it was just too much of an arse to haul huge blocks up there.

Either way, Machu Picchu seems to have been both a royal residence, defensive position and centre of ceremony. The palace complex included residences, a pretty incredible system of water fountains and temples. Even better than that, if you view it from above it looks like an eagle.  If you ever visit, get there for sunrise and you'll see how the whole project is aligned to be lit up by the first rays of sun in a magnificent way. Clever buggers, those Inca.

If you take the Inca Trail, you'll be traveling via old Inca roads. The roads were for official use and included a network of rest stops and provisioning houses along the way. Messages were sent on foot in a relay system.

Laws were issued to standardise things across the empire down to how people could dress or even display their goods. This strict social identificatio n wasn't just arbitrary totalitarianism for the sake of it, but was used as the bases for data and taxation.

These Inca were org-an-ised.

Inca Gods

To understand the Inca belief system, you have to look up.



No. Look up. At the sky. The cosmos.

Every aspect of Inca life (from the gods to where and when they planted crops) seemed to be based on their observations of the Milky Way, which took place from Cuzco, whose name means “centre of the earth.”

Think that Londoners are unbearable? Just imagine how bad the citizens of Cuzco must have been.

Look. Astu is back from his gap year in Cuzco. How was it?


Oh my god guys. Cuzco is the bomb! Soooo much more Bohemian and cultured than the sticks. You have to go. They've for this four regions pizza which is off the scale, and there maize? Seriously. You haven't had maize until you've had it in Cuzco. Oh my god. You so have to go.

Hey. Does anyone fancy doing a sacrifice?


In the Western world, our concept of time is linear. So there’s the present, where you live, and everything that goes before that is the past. Everything that comes after that is the future. The past affects the present and the present affects the future. But the future can’t affect the present and the present can’t affect the past.

This isn’t how the Inca saw things. Instead they had three lines. Kay Pacha is your lifeline. Running parallel to that was Uku Pacha (the past) and Hannan Pacha (the future). Unlike the Western tradition of one thing following from another, these three lines run concurrently and can intersect with one another. So Kay Pacha is simply a moment of experience that can be affected by the past and the future. This idea works particularly well with a non-literate culture where. As nothing is written down, there is no body of history.


Person: Who are you? 

TERMINATOR: I’ve come from the Uku Pacha to the Hannan Pacha to kill your great grandson who is from the future but also, like, the past, where the two timelines intersect and the past and future menge into an omnipresent temporal fluctuation in the Hannan Pacha comtinuum. You see? It’s pretty complicated..

Person: What? You can tell the future?

TERMINATOR: Yes, but I need your hair, your nails and your skin. 

Person: Haven’t you said that already?

TERMINATOR: It was earlier in the script, but also in the future. Like I say, it’s complicated. 

Person: I really feel like I’ve heard all this before

TERMINATOR: Judgement day is inevitable, as are further sequels in the franchise.


Foundation myth

The Inca had several different legends making up their creation story. This could be because they absorbed elements of other practices of the popul3ations they conquered, as the Romans got all Greeked-up after the annexation of Greek states. It also depended on the whims of the emperor. For example, Virracocha was originally the God of Everything until he was seemingly demoted in favour of the God Inti by Emperor Pachakuti.

Another reason could be, as we said, tha t Inca history was fluid and not set in stone.

Anyway, here's one version of the creation story…

Pachacamac, the sun, rose from Lake Titicaca. The sky was empty so he made the stars, the planets and the moon, Pachamama. He then married his wife, she presumably eclipsed him at the ceremony (I thank you). They also had a son and a daughter, who took after their mother by being serene and majestic and after their father by being 50,000 degrees centigrade. I'm speculating.

Pachacamac made the first humans from a huge rock (this is also Dwayne Johnson’s origin story) but these humans were utterly unable to fend for  themselves so Pachacamac sent his son and daughter down to earth to whip them into shape. Their son taught the men agriculture and house building. Their daughter taught the women weaving and the value of tupperware.

Pachacamac was very, very sexist but obviously unable to own it. Presumably why he got his kids to do the gender stereotyping for him.

Pachacamac instructed them to teach the humans to be kind and fair and in return he'd provide light and warmth. 

Pachacamac's son became the first Inca. His daughter became the Inca’s wofe because the royal obsession with incest. Manky.

The Inca and his wife set out on a journey to find the perfect settlement for their people, shoving golden rods into the earth to mark down where cities should be built along the way.

The final rod sunk into the ground and disappeared and so here was built the Temple of the Sun and Cusco. Presumably because of a dispute over travel sweets and directions, the Inca went North to establish Northern Cusco and his wife went south to establish southern Cusco and from then on all cities were divided up into masculine and feminine halves.

There are a pantheon of gods and stories that I'm not going to cover, because:

  1. This is only really a very brief overview on the Inca Empire and there's no need to understand absolutely every aspect of religion to get some insight into the culture and…

  2. They're a load of old made-up bollocks.

What we will do, however is so a quick rundown of the Inca rulers, because there's not that many of them and they'll also give us a nice summary of events that occurred.

Pachacuti (who reigned from 1438-71) is probably the key leader to talk about. He was technically the ninth Sapa Inca but the leader that effectively turned the already-powerful Kingdom of Cuzco into an empire. Pachacuti means “he who overturns space and time” or “earth shaker” and, although I can think of many fart jokes right now, the name came from when he heroically defended Cusco from the invading Chanka armies - at a time when his father, the ruler, and his older brother, the heir, legged it.

Pachacuti was called “the son of the sun” and promoted Inti to top god, rebuilt Cusco as a new imperial capital and pimped up (Quirikancha) Temple of the Sun at its centre. Remember the origin story? Son of the sun, golden rod, temple, new capital... sounding pretty Pachacuti!

It's also thought that Machu Picchu was built during his reign which, given the prestige of the guy and his obsession with the rising sun, I can easily believe.

All this was probably paid for by his conquests which were led by his son Tupac Inca Yupanqi to extend his reign into Qito, in modern day Peru. While being a great warrior, Tupac Inca Yupanqi means Noble Inca Accountant. Yeah. Thanks Dad. Why that name? Was Pachacuti into maths? Could be. Pachacuti had 2 legitimate sons and 90 illegitimate children, so he definitely knew how to multiply.


It was under Pachacuti that the Inca started their policy of forced colonisation. Colonists were called mitionaes and their status was the lowest of the low.

Pachacuti was also supposed to be a great poet. One poem attributed to him goes like this:

“I was born as a lily in the garden and like the lily I grew. As my age advanced, I became old and had to die, and so withered and died.”

Not bad. But he should try limericks.

“There once was Inca called Pachacuti….

Who thought his sister was a cutie

So he met her in the Cancha

And said “I fancy ya”

Now let me grab you by the - “

Under his successors, the conquests continued. Tupac Inca Yupanqi was followed by his young son, Huayna Capac meaning “Young mighty one.” That's a pretty cool name until you start losing your hair and getting a belly.  

Under this Inca, the empire reached its territorial peak. Huayna Capac married a queen from Ecuador to gain more territories, built observatories there such as at Ingapirca. In Bolivia, he had two thousand grain silos built at Cochabamba, which was like the Inca Bank and secured the empire.

The empire at its height was a place of monumental cities, temples and fortresses. Roads were cut through granite mountain slopes (with, remember, no metal!), massive agricultural terraces were cut into hillsides, aqueducts cut through mountains and huge hydraulic projects had been built.

Ok, I know this technology came from the Nazca people (which we'll have to cover at some point) but I'm the last 2 years scientists have worked out that huge holes cut into the ground are designed to make the wind direct the flow of underground rivers that still irrigate whole swathes of this land to...this….day.

The cultures of South America were... incredible. No other word for it.

The end of the Inca

But all good things must come to an end. I'm 1525, Huyana Capac (meaning Great Ruler, and this perhaps isn't an overstatement) died. And then his successor died a few days later leaving no heirs. And what happens when no one knows who's going to take over next?


Do they all play a nice game of rock, paper scissors to decide?


Yes. Well, as long as the rock is used to smash skulls, the scissors to stab necks and the paper to give nasty stinging cuts.

What followed was a vicious civil war between two claimants: brothers Huatahalpa and Huascar. This war lasted until 1532 when Huascar lost and was executed by his brother. The civil war opened cracks in the empire. Remember that this is a vast empire. From end to end, the empire was 2,500 miles long and while a relay system of runners could cover an extremely impressive 250 miles per day, this still meant that keeping such a vast empire together at the best of times was a difficult undertaking.

And just as things looked like they couldn't get any worse….along came the Spanish.

SFX Spanish 

Inspired by Hernan Cortez’s rape and pillage of the Aztec for gold, Francisco Pizzaro arrived to do the same with the Inca. The traditional story goes that Pizzaro turned up with fewer than 200 men but with their new fangled guns and horses they scattered the Inca armies with the shock and awe of their superior weaponry.

There's only one problem with this account. It's woefully inadequate as an explanation. It's like saying that New Zealand won the 2nd world war and, while they did their bit, we might be overlooking the impact of Britain or the USA or, more importantly, the USSR. It simply makes no sense that the Inca were at such a giant disadvantage.As we've said, Inca body armour could deflect musket balls. Their slingshots had the power to break swords. Could 168 Spanish soldiers really defeat thousands of Inca warriors? No.

First, the Spanish troops didn't do this all alone. Entering the scene at the time of a civil war, there were plenty of rebellious factions who were more than happy to side with these powerful extraterrestrials with their magical weapons and appalling body odour.

And let's not downplay the fact that Francisco Pizzaro was a sneaky fellow. It's not like he lined up against the Inca on a battlefield. The story goes that the Inca were taken unaware, thinking Pizzaro was the creator god Virracocha. They supposedly welcomed him with open arms, at which point Pizzaro took their emperor ATAWULPA hostage, tried to set him up as a puppet ruler they could control, found that that didn't work... so executed him.

If this story is true, it would be weird because that's exactly the same story as how Cortez defeated the Aztec. While Pizzaro was inspired by Cortez, the chance of the same scheme working twice (if indeed it ever worked at all) seems unlikely.

But we can't really know either way. What we do know is what really crippled the Inca Empire beyond repair. And it wasn't the Spanish, but something that came with the Spanish... Something foul and dire and vicious and eeeeeeevil


Ah!.... The macarena

Nope, something even more catchy… smallpox. A disease which the Europeans didn't know they had until they saw the effects of it in the native populations of The Americas. Why did Europeans travel West into empty lands? Because up to 98% of the population of North and South America was wiped out by it. And you know the two Inca rulers who mysteriously died one after the other? We now think that could have been smallpox too. Incidentally, smallpox developed because Europeans slept with their animals  

Phil: ewwwww

Ed: I know right…. Pineapple

Meanwhile, Pizarro needed a new puppet emperor so chose Manco Capac II. After allying with a new Spanish faction who didn’t like Pizaro, Manco managed to escape Cuzco and establish a new capital at Lima. This new capital lasted decades before it was finally stormed by vastly reinforced Spanish troops. And so ended the Inca Empire.

Up untill now, all the countries we've covered on CTDEA share roughly the same heritage, roughly the same ideas of statehood, power, money, space and time. The Inca were something else entirely. In the space of 90 years they rapidly expanded on the backs of civilisations that had gone before, learned the lessons of their failure, developed and perfected incredible technologies, mastered the landscape, seemingly able to bend space, time and possibility in the process. But nothing could prepare them for the apocalyptic scourge that came from overseas. The Inca could scale mountains, understand the heavens, turn the desert green, adapt and thrive. But they couldn't adapt enough to a microbe. A foreign Invader infinitely more deadly than the Conquistadors. And what rose like an elemental force fell in the blink of an eye.

Next week on countries that don't exist anymore, we continue to seriously undermine the show with a country that probably didn't exist anyway…it's the Caribbean haven spelt with 2 Rs and a C in the middle….it’s The Republic of Pirates.

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